PUPILS will not have to physically distance when they return to school next month, but teachers may need to wear face coverings, according to the latest scientific advice.

The Scottish Government today published the advice on distancing and transport as it gears up for the full-time return to lessons from August 11.

It will used to develop comprehensive guidance in the coming weeks.

At the Scottish Government's daily briefing, Nicola Sturgeon refused to rule out closing schools with a positive case of Covid. 

Scotland's largest teaching union said "significant discussion" was still required it would be satisfied schools would be safe.

The Scottish Tories also said vulnerable children must not be left behind when schools returned.

The advice said that, provided coronavirus stayed suppressed, primary and secondary pupils would not have to maintain any physical distance in class or on the wider school estate.

The same applied to dedicated school transport.

However the 2metre distance rule should “remain in place wherever possible between adults” and between adults interacting with pupils.

“Where adults cannot keep two metre distance, are interacting face-to-face and for about 15 minutes or more, face coverings should be worn,” the advice said.

As of July 12, only 151 or 0.8 per cent of the 18,365 positive cases of Covid were among people aged under 15, a rate of less than 20 per 100,000 of the population in that age group.

The advice said face coverings were not needed for children, unless for medical reasons.

But as coverings became more commonplace in society, children should not be discouraged from wearing them voluntarily.

The advice also warned that some aspects of school life would not restart immediately.

It recommended an “incremental reintroduction of collective activities that cross classes and age groups, and of higher-risk activities such as assemblies, choirs, drama, gym etc.” 

The advice said dedicated school transport should be treated as an extension of the school estate, meaning face coverings and physical distancing was not required.

However pupils should observe the same rules as everyone else on public transport.

The advice also said that physical distancing and other mitigation measures may have to be reintroduced if the virus rebounded.

It said there should be “zero tolerance of symptoms”, and anyone with a high temperature, new continuous cough, loss or change their sense of smell or taste, or who had contact with someone with symptoms, should not attend or be asked to return home and be tested. 

It said contact tracing would “have implications for the whole school community”. 

The advice recommended a package of measures to reduce the risk of transmission of the virus, including:

- an increased emphasis on hand hygiene and surface cleaning, with hand washing and/or sanitising required for everyone on every entry to the school

- avoiding large gatherings and crowded spaces in both primary and secondary schools, such as assemblies 

- keeping pupils within the same groups for the duration of the school day as much as possible

- minimal sharing of equipment/utensils/toys/books

- smaller groups and more outdoor activities

- movement between schools - of children, and of temporary/ supply/peripatetic staff - kept to an "absolute minimum"

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS union, welcomed the advice and noted it was contingent upon Coid staying suppressed.

He said: "That shouldn’t be taken as a given.

"The recent experience of Israel, where levels of infection have soared again following the removal of mitigations, is a stark reminder that the virus remains a threat.

"The reports highlight the importance of significant mitigations being operational in schools.

"The EIS will engage in discussion as to what these should be.

"Pro-active testing of school communities is certainly one measure which should be in place and we also think that more should be done around senior pupils, who are young adults rather than children. 

"Beyond the immediate issue of how schools reopen is the equally critical question of how schools will be resourced to support the educational recovery of pupils. We need more teachers and more support staff. Current efforts by both the Scottish Government and local government is falling short of what is needed.”

Education Secretary John Swinney said: “This scientific advice will inform the way schools can re-open safely from 11 August, if infection rates continue to remain low.

“The Education Recovery Group which comprises local authorities, parent representatives and teachers’ organisations and trades unions, has been developing plans for how to open schools safely for everyone.

“We are considering this advice as we develop comprehensive guidance which will give confidence to our school communities that the safety and wellbeing of children, young people and staff is ensured as we welcome them back.

“Ensuring the highest quality education for our young people, in a safe environment, must be a priority for us all and I know that everyone is committed to make sure that children's education is not adversely affected in the longer term.”

Asked if a positive case at a school could cause it to close, Ms Sturgeon said: “These kind of scenarios can’t be ruled out at all.”

Mr Swinney added: “This will be a critical aspect of our handling of the relaxation of lockdown, that where we see the emergence of particular patterns of infection, we have to be prepared as a country to take decisive action to protect the wider interests of the country.

“We want to avoid widespread lockdown if we possibly can do. 

“So therefore taking targeted action to make sure that wer can address the emergence of any particular clusters or cases will be critical to the management of coronavirus on an ongoing basis.”

Tory MSP Jamie Greene said: “Prior to the pandemic, the SNP government had completely failed to reduce the attainment gap and it is clear that vulnerable pupils have suffered the most during the crisis.

“Serious thought must now be put into how schools can help these children bridge that widening gap so they are not permanently left behind.

“Programmes focused on deprived children must be given priority, but the SNP government must increase teacher numbers, something they have also totally failed to do.

“School transport also continues to be a hugely problematic area, especially in rural areas.

“With many services still cancelled and local authority funds depleted, John Swinney must put his money where his mouth is and ensure councils can return bus services to pre-pandemic levels.

“With only a few short weeks before school starts, the SNP government is going to have to move quickly to ensure schools have what they need if this promise is going to be delivered.“